Most folks may or may not realize it, but baking at high altitude can become quite a pain. For starters, once you get past about 2,400 feet, the air is thin enough to the point that cakes bake quicker on the outside then on their insides, breads fall flat from rising too fast, and cookies can begin to crumble from the quicker evaporation of moisture. Most out-of-the-box mixes come with instructions for adjustments needed in these situations, but if you’re baking from scratch, how can you cope with such a disturbance in the force? Easily, with these 5 tips for high altitude baking! One very important thing to remember, though, is that if you live in the mountains, what may work for you may not work for your neighbor who lives down the road.
1. Always pre-heat that oven! Right around 5,000 feet in altitude is just the worst for retaining heat – combat this by adding 15 – 20 degrees to the recommended temperature when you pre-heat your oven. This little boost in heat will help your tasty creation set up quickly, avoiding the catastrophe of baked goods that fall in on themselves.
When you’re above 7,000 feet, however, use moderate heat instead, but increase the length of time spent actually baking the goods. Basically, add about 15-25 minutes, being sure to check using the fork test often.
Lastly, if you’re above the 9,000 foot altitude mark, pre-heat your oven about 25 degrees warmer than what the recipe calls for. Once your goods are put in the oven, though, lower that temperature back down to the called for setting. This will help ensure you get the quick set from the higher heat, but you won’t draw out too much moisture in the goods themselves.
2. Adjust ingredient levels. If you’ve tried a recipe and found it still crumbles or caves in, you’ll most likely need to adjust the amount of certain ingredients to compensate for the higher altitudes. The amounts will vary depending on your altitude, so play around with the levels until you find what works for you.
- · Add 1 – 4 tablespoons of liquid ingredients to compensate for faster evaporation rates. The higher up you are the thinner the air, which means the boiling point for water is reduced.
- · Increase the amount of flour called for by about 1 – 5 tablespoons, depending on your elevation.
- · As your elevation increases, be sure to decrease the amount of baking soda and/or baking powder that you use by about 1/8 – 2/3 per teaspoon called for, and when measuring out your sugar, subtract about 1-5 tablespoons overall. It takes a bit of math, but it will help you out in the end.
- · If you’re having problems maintaining a cakes structural integrity, or your goods keep coming out a little too dry, try adding one large egg to the mix. The yolk provides better support in the structure of the mix and the moisture helps to prevent drying out.
- · If you’re using yeast, decrease the amount by ¼ – ½ a teaspoon for every 2 ½ teaspoon called for. This prevents breads from rising too fast.
3. Substitute ingredients. Sometimes you’ll have a recipe that calls for yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream; unfortunately, when you’re at a higher altitude, these particular ingredients can cause baked goods to retain a significant amount of moisture, making it more difficult to evenly bake an item. Using whole or low-fat milk as a substitute helps to avoid a moisture over-load in the middle of your treats.
Also, while it may be nice to use wheat-flour or other options, unless you’re prepared to do a few trial-and-error runs, you’re better off using all-purpose flour in your mixes, due to its ability to help maintain the structural integrity of baked goods in high altitudes.
4. Turn that heat UP! The higher the altitude, the longer it takes to bake, and the necessary increase in time will vary depending on what type of goods you’re baking. A very good rule of thumb is to try increasing the time needed by about 15 minutes. If that still isn’t long enough, bake for 10 more minutes. Generally, you won’t to add on more than 15 – 25 minutes, but if you do, make sure to check your treats with the fork test every 5 – 10 minutes after.
5. Keep it air-tight. As soon as your baked goods have cooled to the touch, store them immediately in air-tight containers to prevent the thinner air from drying them out. It’s never fun to make a tasty cake and find out the next day that it’s lost all moisture!
If you’ve enjoyed these tips and would like to learn even more, please check out an extended set of publications by the Colorado State University.
What other tips and tricks have y’all learned for baking in higher altitudes? Share in the comments!